the loneliness of the connected age

the heat has been intense the last few days and as my fans struggle to keep up, i wondered about air conditioners and how they work. turns out, it’s the refrigerants in air conditioners that make them so helpful at reducing the temperature. the liquid refrigerants inside the units absorb the heat from the air. the liquid turns into a vapour as it warms and is forced along tubes while the cooled air is recirculated from the unit. the warm vapour running in the pipes is condensed back into a liquid. as it does, the heat is released and dissipates off the coils or fins. the recooled refrigerant is returned to the beginning to start the process starts all over again. air conditioners also dehumidify to increase comfort. now i know.

this is the joy of the cell phone. they’re a boon to the curious. i have inquiring thoughts about any number of things at various times throughout the day. for instance, did you know that those weird little wood bugs you find under logs and rocks are not insects but a kind of crustacean? i was watching them one afternoon while sitting on the front step when it occurred to me that while i’d been observing them at odd intervals my whole life, i knew absolutely nothing about them. without my trusty cell phone and web browser, i’d still be in the dark.

i enjoy being able to find out the answers to things. i’ve forgotten hundreds of things i’ve been curious about over the years, the answers forever out of reach now that the questions are gone. if only i’d been near a reference source. if i was at home, the odds of finding out an answer were better; in addition to my computer, i always keep a set of encyclopaedias in my library. if there’s ever a global disaster that knocks out the internet, i’ll still be able to look up “how to milk a goat”. those who rely solely on electronic information will be out of luck. i feel kind of smug about that. barring a global disaster, however, my go-to source of information remains my phone.

phones are good for other reasons, the least of which is communicating with others. having a source of entertainment available if i’m stuck in my car waiting for a various selection of children at some location or other is handy. the waiting happens less often now that they drive, but in my chauffeur years, it was nice to have something beyond the back label of a tube of moisturizer to entertain myself with as i waited in the car for the movie to get out.

i try not to use my cell if i’m waiting in a public venue. i used to pull it out whenever i had a delay. it was instant. line up and out comes the phone. hit a waiting room and open up a game. this was before i realized that the world was growing silent and we’re all turning into islands. no one talks to one another anymore. i’m insular by nature; engaging is a struggle for me, but i liked being able to observe and eavesdrop when others did it. now though, people seem to prefer engaging with the LED screens rather than each other, therefore, the onus of starting a conversation has fallen on me. it’s tricky; there’s only a small window available to pull people away from their phones. they look up when you enter a room or queue behind them and that’s when you have to engage. if you let them look back at their phone, they’re lost to you forever, trapped by falling candy or number puzzles until their name is called by the similarly self-absorbed reception staff.

no wonder loneliness is on the rise. we don’t even see each other anymore. human interaction is treated like a nuisance; connection interferes with our relationship with our phones. we prefer to find out what’s trending rather than check in with others as to what’s happening. it’s a weird and not entirely wonderful development.

i suspect it’s because we’re evolutionary toddlers. we’re new to this world of tech. we are still figuring out how to navigate it and how to make it work for us. like toddlers, we stumble at first. i suspect we’ll figure it out and in the end, the technological change will be a boon but until that time, i think i’ll continue to step outside my comfort zone and engage with people despite my discomfort, pulling them away from accumulating pointless points and irrelevant gold bars and back into the world, for moments at a time.

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